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  • Writer's pictureDr Kate Nickson

Creating an inspiring KS3 course for online teaching

I sat down yesterday evening with excitement, to begin the process of planning my new KS3 course. This will be a 1-year course for home educated students, taught online through small group classes. The KS3 course is building on the success of my IGCSE group classes for home educated students, which I launched in September 2020. After all the time I have spent lately thinking about assessment for my 1-year IGCSE class and independent A Level students, as well as those I support with their in-school learning, it was a pleasure to turn my thoughts towards something other than exam preparation. Education is about so much more than just exams, but in the midst of the pandemic, with so much focus on “lost learning” and how we can help students to “catch up”, it is easy to lose sight of this at times. With my new KS3 course I aim to engage students, sparking their interest in Chemistry, whilst building foundations in preparation for further studies. It’s going to be fun and I cannot wait to meet my students, but first some serious planning is needed to create an inspiring course!

At first sight, with my years of teaching experience this ought to be an easy task. But the best KS3 courses in school are practically based. Some teachers would argue every lesson ought to include a practical and that learning is almost accidental. I disagree with this; whilst I believe there should be a substantial practical component, I think this needs to be purposeful and clearly linked to learning. The new (I)GCSEs are more conceptually challenging than their predecessors and as such, it is so important to build skills in the lead-up to these courses, to ensure students are able to go on to achieve the top grades. In light of this, KS3 courses have never been more important. It is common for schools nowadays to begin (I)GCSE Science teaching in Year 9 to fit the courses into the available teaching time. Coming back to the “easy task”, how do you translate a course based around practical work to an online class without losing the inspiration element?

Luckily, I love a challenge and I am never happier than when creating lessons, bringing my years of experience to play. I was fortunate to take an amazing PGCE course with inspirational tutors at the University of Cambridge. In my early teaching years, I had brilliant mentors in school, which in conjunction with a Masters in Education turned me into a very reflective teacher. So, the idea of taking a practical Chemistry course and turning it into an online class, without access to labs, specialist equipment and chemicals, whilst still retaining the magic, is a challenge to which I will rise with gusto!

How will it work? We will be doing context-based learning. Many years ago, I rewrote a rather dry Year 8 Scheme of Work for one of the UK’s top independent schools and turned it into a context-based course drawing inspiration from the old OCR Gateway 21st Century Science that I taught as a newly qualified teacher. As well as the some of the more traditional topics of “elements, mixtures and compounds” and “acids and alkalis” we will be learning about “cooking chemistry” and “materials chemistry”. Traditional concepts and important skills will be taught, but within interesting contexts, where the application to everyday life is apparent. Practical work will still be a key focus but this will take place in the kitchen as consolidation work. I will be carefully trialling experiments over the next few months in my kitchen, working out how to get the same learning and engagement out of slightly different practicals, without the usual chemicals and equipment. There will be kitchen-based investigations to build the all-important investigative skills that are needed to understand and answer questions about the IGCSE core practicals. A key component of all this, there will be the weekly small group classes, where students will learn concepts and build skills, but more importantly I hope to teach them how to think scientifically and to become resilient learners. Here too, I will need my skills to keep the lessons engaging without the carrot of practical work! I have used interactive Kahoot quizzes to good effect in my IGCSE group classes, as both a learning tool and motivator, so they will feature. One of the first pieces of technology that I sourced was a crossword writing programme, as another way to assess understanding and build vocabulary. There will still be fun and almost accidental learning as well as traditional skills being taught. Assessment will be formative, based around what they can do and how to improve further. There will be plenty of time for building exam skills in the IGCSE course when things get a bit more serious. I hope that some of my students will gain a love of Chemistry that may one day lead to A Level Chemistry and even beyond. With a class worth of students already signed up it’s time start working my magic behind the scenes and get this course planned!

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